Majority of prostitutes in Saipan’s tourist district of Garapan had no plans to join the world’s oldest profession, according to former U.S. Labor ombudsman Pamela Brown.
“Most of prostitutes who are down in Garapan are not there willingly. They’re there because they owe money to someone [and] their families are being threatened. We’ve had many people attempt suicide because of threats to their families. Their family’s homes have also been burned down in China [and] members of their families have been killed in China. So this is a serious, serious situation,” she said as one of the speakers of the Rotary Club of Saipan’s weekly meeting Tuesday at Hyatt Regency Saipan.
Streetwalkers and other aliens’ sad plight begin when they are unknowingly trafficked into the CNMI, she said.
Brown specifically set up Pacific Ombudsman for Humanitarian Law, where she is president, to help victims of human trafficking not only in the CNMI but across the region as well.
She said some of the current problems started just before the federal government took over immigration of the Commonwealth.
“We had cases in 2009 right before the federal government took over local immigration. We had a huge onslaught of mainly Chinese but also Indian nationals who were told that if they were here when federal takeover happens, they would be automatically granted U.S. citizenship and could go to Guam and help with the military buildup.”
Brown said many of them paid anywhere between $4,000 and $60,000 and majority didn’t even know they were being trafficked.
“They just find out that’s something’s wrong because when they get here it’s not what they’ve been told. They’re told to get this and there’s an extra fee for that. They keep paying, paying, paying to this organization that is well organized and had a common thread throughout India and China.”
And because of the debt they accumulate, they are forced to work in jobs or do things against their will.
Help from service providers
Brown said there exists a human trafficking intervention coalition in the Commonwealth and through this, they’ve been able to reach out and help victims of human trafficking.
“There was one operation and we ended up working long and hard. Luckily we’re blessed to have a shelter here in the CNMI, which not many of the island-nations [in the Pacific] do. Through Guma Esperanza and assistance by translators and volunteers from many other ethnicities on island like the Russians, the Nepalese, and the Thai we were able to after months and months and months of working with these victims to finally get the real story out of them.”
Brown said they eventually found out that they were indeed trafficked into the CNMI.
“We were treating it as labor recruitment fraud or labor contract fraud. In reality they were getting here and being trafficked to prostitution, they were being taken to bars and forced to work without being paid, nothing was explained to them except for ‘if you don’t do what we tell you, we would take you to immigration and they will deport you.’”
To this end, Brown joined U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco in inviting the Rotary Club to join the coalition and help stop human trafficking in the region.
“We have a human trafficking intervention coalition in the CNMI and we’ve often discussed inviting Rotary to join us. We know you do this kind of good work and a public service organization. But the best way you can help us is just pay attention on what’s going around you.”
She told Rotarians to keep their eyes peeled for telltale signs of human trafficking in their neighborhoods.
“If there’s an apartment building next door that is jam-packed with Chinese who don’t seem to be doing anything except for wandering around, let us know. Because most likely that’s probably where they’re holding them until they figure out what they can do to them. We’re just trying to get the word out to every community throughout the Pacific—Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.”